I remember as a kid getting excited as New Year's Eve approached. The magic of Christmas was already a week in the past, and I needed something to look forward to. We usually went to Grandma Camardi's on Hull Street to party. These were strictly family affairs where the three Camardi sisters brought their kids, and the Camardi son, Uncle Mike, brought his latest glamorous girlfriend. Grandma would cook up a big pot of fried zeppoles sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the kids played a game called "Put and Take" using pennies and a spinning top that instructed you to put in or take out of the pot. The adults all got a little tipsy on rye or homemade wine, and it was fun seeing their party personalities. The absolute best thing about these celebrations: kids got to stay up past midnight! Of course by 12:15 we were passed out on the pile of coats on the bed.
Then came the teen years. I would go to parties thrown by a friend's parents in a desperate effort to keep all of us close to home. Sal Bordenga, father of my sister's friend Phyllis, threw the best parties. Sal and his wife Agnes were the youngest, hippest parents on the block and made us feel very grown up hanging out in their apartment. Sal would slip the guys a watered-down highball and we knew then that we were men. One year we all rode the subway to Times Square to watch the ball drop. On a good year back then, maybe 5,000 people showed up. There was no New Year's Rockin' Eve, just Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. If people felt festive in the cold night air, it was mainly due to the flasks they carried. Afterward we went to eat...pretty much the standard ending for all our adventures. The movie "Diner" captured that scene nicely.
The pre-marriage/dating years meant nightclubs and real dress-up parties. Places like Pep McGuire's or the Jade East in Valley Stream would throw these parties, and for a flat price, you got dinner, music and second-shelf drinks. We would dress up in our cool sharkskin suits with the tab collars and skinny ties, and do our best to have enough fun to cover costs. Drinking and driving were not such big issues back then, and when I think back on how I ever drove home, I shudder a little. The nightclub scenes from the movie "Goodfellas" nailed this kind of party. Of course they sat ringside at the Copa and we sat at the table near the wall radiator in the back. Also, we never shot anybody to cap off the evening; we were too shot ourselves.
Then came the kids. It was hard getting out for New Year's Eve since we had our first child (Laura) ten months after the wedding. In four years came Mike, and in four more, Matt. At first we stayed home and allowed the kids to stay up the way we used to. We'd all drink a toast at midnight and then put the kids and ourselves to bed. As they got older, we started going to Aunt Lulu's house on New Year's Eve. Her apartments tended to be small and we all crowded in sitting elbow to elbow. Lulu's husband Ralph, the clown in the family, always did some outlandish thing to amuse the kids while we ate Chinese food and drank. Being with family and watching all the cousins, nieces and nephews grow up is what I remember best about these parties.
Now the kids are off celebrating New Year's Eve in their own way depending on their circumstances. The two of us and cousin Joan go to Jasmine's sister's home in Brooklyn for a quiet evening. The food is good and we drink wine now, but seeing in the New Year is a quiet affair. At midnight, the ships still sound their horns in the harbor and the neighbors whoop it up outside. We put on our party hats, blow our noise makers, and share a hug, happy to be around for another year. I think every guy lucky enough to make it to age 70 identifies very strongly with Mr. Sinatra's song. Every year is a very good year, maybe different, but still good.
I feel blessed to have my family and friends, and wish them health, happiness and peace in the new year.
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